Karam Malhotra
Guest Article

Decoding the potential of non-English internet users...

..and cashing in on the next set of customers

India is a diverse land with a rich mix of cultures and ethnicities. An outcome of this geographical and cultural diversity are the large number of languages that are prevalent in India. In such a linguistically diverse nation that has huge economic and cultural disparity, it does not come as a surprise that English may still not be a language for the masses.

With 19,500 languages or dialects spoken as mother tongues, there are 121 languages that are spoken by 10,000 or more people in India, which has a population of 121 crores. Under the Hindi language alone, there are 55 dialects, some with over 10 million speakers. These numbers paint a staggering image and help highlight just how important vernacularism is for the Indian audience.

Content consumption in India has seen a major transformation in recent years with digital formats increasingly gaining popularity. The ease in availability of internet due to cheaper rates and the rise in the number of devices capable of supporting digital media have led to this outcome. So, what are the ways to fully harness this opportunity?

Vernacular content to be key

Content is a product that sells if it connects with people at a fundamental level and to build this connect, it is vital that platforms tap the audience in the language that they are most comfortable with. Given the immense linguistic diversity among the Indian audience, it becomes vital to offer content in regional languages. As per a comprehensive survey in the Zinnov report, more than 70 per cent of consumers prefer content in regional languages over Hindi and English.

In a recent interview, the director of content partnerships at YouTube in India spoke about the importance of regional content, stating that consumption growth on YouTube in languages such as Telugu, Tamil, Malaylam, Bengali and Hindi are the highest, witnessing a 100 per cent year-on-year rise. Applications such as SHAREit, witnessing steep difference in the ratio of English from vernacular users (approx. 15 per cent to 85 per cent), have also taken advantage of this relatively unexplored market to gain immense popularity among the regional consumers by offering vernacular content.

Cross platform partnerships to gain more prominence

The problem with content in India is that a lot of it is not reachable to the mass markets. There may be many shows, movies and games available on various channels and platforms, but the consumer may have little to zero idea about it. The coming years will see distribution platforms, which have strong distribution networks and consumer base, making decisions to partner with OTT platforms and content creators to distribute their content to the masses.

Mobile-first approach

There is a change in the content consumption pattern even in the digital format, with more and more devices supporting digital content thereby offering more ways to explore the content. With the jiofication of the telecom industry, mobile phones have risen to become the primary means of digital content consumption. To support this, the Zinnov survey indicates that in tier 2 and tier 3 cities, 81 per cent and 80 per cent of respondents respectively, chose mobile phones as the preferred platform for consuming online content. This not only highlights the importance of mobile-first approach, but also puts additional impetus on the vitality of vernacular content. In fact, in the very same report, it is projected that the 4G user base in India will reach an astounding 900 million in the tier 1, 2 and 3 cities within the next three years. This coupled with the introduction of 5G into the mix from mid-2020, offers great opportunities for content platforms in India.

(The author is chief executive officer (India) and vice-president (Global), SHAREit)